(Fifth Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Alice Neel, visual artist, expressionist painter, A
career-spanning retrospective of her work opened last month at the Metropolitan
died in 1984 at the age of 84.
Museum of Art in New York: "Alice Neel: People Come First". I had the good
fortune of seeing it. She describes her work as “pictures of people”, resisting the
classification of “portrait painter”, too staid a genre she thought. Neel had a
prodigiously creative life.
Neel also had a difficult life. She married upper-class Cuban painter, Carlos
Enriquez. Their daughter, Santillana, died ofdiphtheria just shy ofher first
birthday. November 1927. November 1928, Neel gave birth to another girl,
Isabella Lillian. New York City, her adopted home. In 1930, Carlos announced he
would travel to Paris, to find a place for the family to live. Instead, he returned to
Cuba, taking Isabella with him. Mourning the loss of her husband and daughter,
a nervous breakdown, hospitalization, attempted suicide, sanitorium. She
continued to paint. Release. Time with her parents. Welfare. Several lovers and
many friends. Two sons.
She continued to paint, to the end.
Her work is hard to describe: plainly serious? thoughtfully naked? irresistibly
direct? Her portrayal of pregnant women, for example, is jarring and compelling
Jesus’ portrayal (or better, revelation) of Himself as the True Vine
is (also, albeit differently)
To the degree I poetically hear this passage, I’m fine with it.
To the degree I real-ly hear this passage, I’m less fine with it.
Seemingly incomplete information, harsh consequences for non-compliance and disturbing demands for exclusive allegiance.
What exactly is the mysterious fruit?
Why no room for negotiation or compromise?
Why the declaration of our incompetence and inability?
Very offensive to my sense ofautonomous selffor which I have worked many years!
jarring and compelling and demanding.
It implies that my life is not my own,
that I am bound, by necessary extension, to Christ’s other branches
whether such boundedness suits my temperament or not,
that my choices, therefore, affect people I don’t even know.
Worse, that I hold two seemingly contradictory truths in perpetual tension. One: that the point of my Christian life isn’t me,
my growth, my catharsis, my contributions, my achievements.
that I am inextricably linked to Some-One else and to many others,
who have a hold on my heart.
Indeed, apart from the vine and the other branches, I am not only barren; I am dead.
And two: that I (and every branch) matter more than I can possibly imagine because the fruitfulness of the True Vine is no trivial thing.
Indeed, Jesus wants to make use of you and me to feed the world.
A key word and thus key revelation in this metaphor: “abide”.
(used eight times in this passage!)
If the Father is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches,
what are we to do?
One essential thing: abide.
Cling, depend, rely, acquiesce, commit, remain, continue, last,
make ourselves at home.
To abide is passive--to stay rooted in place and active--to grow, to change. To abide is humbling: we accept nourishment not of our own making.
To abide is vulnerable: we get pruned.
To abide is risky: we bear fruit that others will see and taste.
To abide is relentlessly communal: we live with fellow branches,
a life that can be crowded and tangled.
This invitation, this calling is challenging. We live in strange divided times
and understandably have trust issues, even in the Church.
[Anyone here afraid of being cancelled?]
And it’s very hard in our self-promoting culture to confess
that we are lost and lifeless and can do nothing that lasts forever on our own, that our happiness lies in surrender, not self-sufficiency,
that Jesus isn’t just a wise teacher or good role model or provocative historical figure,
but the very Source and Sustainer of my life.
Bear in mind, however, that this is all gift.
By grace, we have been grafted onto, incorporated into Christ. And, in intimate communion with Him, I can bear much fruit.
And what is this mysterious fruit?
Look to our second reading, which also speaks of abiding:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
The fruit that we bear along the pilgrim way, which allows God to radiate
in and through us, is love for one another.
The fruit is divine love exercised between us.
And the more we allow the love of God in our hearts to flow,
and to be victorious over jealousy, anger, bitterness, fatigue,
the more rooted we are in Christ’s heart, Source of this love.
It is an ever-deepening cycle.
Jesus makes it possible for us to love in this way,
and the more we say “yes”, the closer we are to the Source.
It’s a win-win.
We need only surrender...
And who, really doesn’t want to surrender to love?